Homework in Primary Schools

Published as an Interview, Scotland on Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Published as an Interview, Daily Mail, Monday October 14th, 2013

Published in whole, Edinburgh Evening News, Tuesday October 15th, 2013


The issue of homework is a constant reference point when it comes to debating what is good and not so good about our education system. It becomes even more of an issue when you discuss it with primary school parents and, indeed, teachers. So, hands up if you think homework is important? When I ask that question in my school’s community, I get about an 80-90% positive response. In other words, teachers and parents generally see homework as a positive influence on the lives of their children. Being one to accept the democratic wish of my parent and teacher body, I allow ‘homework’ to march on without my interference. However, I really wish I could change people’s minds on the matter.

Our deference to homework is a result, I think (?), of our history, tradition and culture which has always accepted that homework is part of growing up, an introduction to self-regulation and an important element in attaining a work ethic. Actually, I think we think that, just because we’ve always done it that way. Interestingly, however, research would suggest that those who are pro-homework are right. Some studies conclude that academic achievement can be improved by as much as 15% in primary and a staggering 60% in secondary. As I like to question everything, those two statistics interest me. There is clearly a major disparity between the value of homework for different age groups, albeit both groups show positive outcomes. Personally, I would ban homework at every Primary school in the country not because it is irrelevant, meaningless or counter-productive (even though it can be all of these things) but because it infringes too heavily on family life at home. Children who are 5 or 8 or 10 should be out playing or watching telly or having a meal at a table or talking with their family members.

Too many children, particularly those who live in book environments, are herded towards the ‘homework’ table practically as soon as they get through their front doors; quickly followed by crying, frustration, fighting with parents (and anyone else in the vicinity) and garnished with a dose of, “I don’t understand this, I can’t do it, I’m tired, You do it, You’re doing it wrong,” and so on and so forth. Never have we made learning so unenjoyable as we do when we force children to work at the end of the school day.

My six year old is not doing homework and he is a happy wee lad! Is that not a good enough reason? He’s not not doing it because I have imposed some hippy-style mantra in the house banning it; I’m simply waiting for him to tell me he has homework. In this way, the learning that could come from homework is his choice. Furthermore, I know the day will come when he says he has homework to do and when he does I’ll be there to help him. However, in my mind, it’s really important it comes from him. When I ask if he enjoyed his day at school, I get the usual “fine”. When I asked for detail last week and pressed him on the matter, he said, “Oh, dad, I don’t know, I’m just having fun!” That was music to my ears because learning is fun, or at least it should be.

So, do we really believe that homework in Primary school results in a greater likelihood of our 5-year-olds ending up in a profession, because I really do not. I am fortunate enough to be a Headmaster and I absolutely love my job but when I go home at night, I go home. I relax, I enjoy my family, I watch television and I do absolutely no homework whatsoever. And yet we still expect our children to work at home. I believe it is a slavish response to what has become the expected norm. Let’s get rid of it altogether in Primary schools and see it for what it actually is. A waste of (family) time.